Our School of Science and Math has a tradition of holding a pot luck lunch in one of the larger biology teaching labs every “reading day” in the middle of finals week. It’s a decent social event, and all faculty and staff are invited.

I used to go most of the time, though after dropping off my food I’d leave and come back fifteen minutes late, to avoid the food line. Last year, however, I stuck around. And a couple of staff members opened the event with a prayer. I got pissed off, and this year I didn’t show up at all.

Now, in one sense, the prayer is understandable. A rather conservative Christianity is the local culture, and it is close to Christmas. This is what almost all the staff, and a significant minority of the faculty, expect and are comfortable with. Still, to me it seemed like shoving religion in my face at the time. Perhaps I overreacted, but still, I was left with the taste that I wasn’t entirely welcome. It isn’t my damn culture, and I’m not a visitor or a tourist who would just observe the local folkways and move on.

I didn’t make a fuss, but today I wasn’t there. I don’t intend to go back. But I’m really not sure about the etiquette of such matters. Perhaps I’m still overreacting…

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Peter

    Someone should tell the staff members who are doing this praying that they are "offending" some. Suggest that they please pray silently, and individually.

  • Jacob

    Surely the school/event has some non-christian religous people. Do they really appreciate hearing a chorus of "In G-sus name!" ?

  • Jacob

    Perhaps I should qualify my previous comment. Surely there are others in your position who think the situation is uncomfortable or untenable that you could band up with and voice your concerns together rather than alone?

  • vjack

    If this is a state-funded educational institution, I'd recommend submitting a written complaint to someone with the authority to change the practice.

  • DM
  • Jim Thompson

    Grow up. Just stand there, then start eating.

  • Rob

    I think A.J. Ayer had it right, concerning prayer:

    "I won't utter falsehoods, but I've no objection to uttering meaningless statements."


  • Chuichupachichi

    You did correctly in simply removing yourself from the place if it truly upset you that much.

    But from what would such anger be derived? We know their prayer doesn't harm you, causing pain neither physically nor audibly. Thus, I believe it to be from feeling there's a civil violation

    "Congress shall make no law respecting (regarding) the establishment of religion, nor prohibit the practice thereof"

    The Feds can't impose their will when citizens establish or practice their religion. Considering that's what caused the Pilgrims flight… it makes sense!

  • Chuichupachichi

    Just wondering if atheists have ever considered that since atheism consists of there being no god/s. Thus, when anything religious is disallowed at any public place such as schools, city hall etc. Wouldn't it be a legitimate grievance for a Christian per say, to claim that a completely religo-sterilized environment is atheism being forced upon a theist?

  • Explicit Atheist

    Chuichupachichi, to demonstrate how unbalanced your question is all you need to do is turn it around like this:

    when anything atheistic is disallowed at any public place such as schools, city hall etc. Wouldn't it be a legitimate grievance for an atheist per say, to claim that a completely atheist sterilized environment is Christianity being forced upon a atheist?

    1) The fact is that public places are not all government places and there are no legal restrictions on religious activity at public places which are not government places 2) the fact is that every meeting is not a place for a majority of atheists to make a common statement of atheism just like every meeting is not a place for a majority of theists to make a common statement of theism or a majority of democratic party sympathizers to make a statement of partisan affiliation 3) the fact is that a meeting where no statement of partisan affiliation, theism, or atheism is made is a neutral with respect to partisan politics and religion.

  • Explicit Atheist

    You can object to the religious statement. Unless there were a large enough group of people to start a new meeting without the religious statement, however, I don't see why anyone should refuse to attend a meeting on a secular topic merely because the participants are in the habit of injecting a religious statement. Refusing to go a meeting doesn't accomplish anything.